Solar mapping: where the sun does shine

Many cities get solar mapped, but none are in sunny Nevada. Why?

San Francisco is the first of 25 Solar America cities to be mapped. This screengrab at <a shows how solar mapping works for average users.">

San Francisco is the first of 25 Solar America cities to be mapped. This screengrab at shows how solar mapping works for average users.

For more information on Solar America Cities, visit For a look at what solar mapping can do, visit

Have you ever looked at a building—your house or office, perhaps—and wondered about its potential for solar or wind power? The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has partnered with CH2M Hill, an engineering company with a branch in Reno, to create solar maps of 25 cities as part of the Solar America Cities initiative. The maps will use Google Earth technology to pinpoint the solar potential of each roof in the cities. Users will be able to go to the internet-based portal, type in an address and find out the size of the roof in square feet, estimates for its photovoltaic power, the amount and value of electricity that could be produced by solar power there and the carbon dioxide emissions that could be reduced from the use of that solar energy. The company just completed its first map, which is of San Francisco and can be seen at

Despite being cited as a state with great solar energy potential, Nevada has no participating cities in the survey. The cities that were selected, ranging from Boston to Ann Arbor to Sacramento, had to have filled out a grant proposal and submitted it to the DOE. “Say if Las Vegas or Reno wanted to be one of them, that’s what they needed to do to step up and make it happen,” says Steph Stoppenhagen, program manager for the solar mapping initiative, via her office in Portland, Ore., which is also a participating city. However, she adds that with a new president soon to take office, the DOE has funds that could be allocated to cities that didn’t get into the first rounds. Though there are no new rounds planned, Stoppenhagen says a city like Reno could contact the DOE saying they’d like a solar map or some other renewable energy project, and then ask what they could do to get help with funding. A highly accurate map like that of San Francisco costs around $4,000-$5,000 per square mile, though a helpful but less accurate map based on assessor parcel databases could be created for about $100 per square mile, says Stoppenhagen.

“You [Nevada] are quite viable for sun, and there’re so many cool things going on,” she says. “We can add wind to the solar map, you could have a renewable energy map—we’re adding that into the San Francisco map, and we have wind going into the Tennessee Valley Authority map—so people could see ‘which is more viable for my house.'”

Jason Geddes, environmental services administrator for the city of Reno, says the city wasn’t aware of the Solar America project. “We definitely would have applied if we’d known about it,” he said. He said the city did participate in a more generalized, statewide mapping project that shows potential areas for renewable energy, which people can access at

The 25 cities being solar mapped are Orlando, Fla.; New Orleans, La.; Knoxville, Tenn.; New York City, N.Y.; Boston, Mass.; Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Penn.; Milwaukee and Madison, Wis.; Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn., Ann Arbor, Mich.; Houston, Austin and San Antonio, Texas; Seattle, Wash., Portland, Ore., Denver, Colo.; Salt Lake City, Utah; Tucson, Ariz.; and Berkeley, Sacramento, San Jose, Santa Rosa, San Diego, and San Francisco in California.